“I definitely have people every day grab me on the street saying, ‘When is your show coming back, why did they cancel it?’ ” said Arquette, who stars in “Medium,” NBC’s drama about a psychic who helps solve crimes while juggling the quotidian challenges of middle-class family life.
In fact, “Medium” returned to the air this month for its fifth season, which finds Arquette’s character, Allison DuBois, back assisting the Phoenix district attorney’s office, the fallout from her public exposure now largely subsided. The return of the series wasn’t accompanied by the fanfare of other mid-season premieres like “American Idol” or “Lost.” But the under-the-radar drama continues to draw a loyal fan base that gravitates to the program’s cleverly packed mysteries and unsentimental depiction of a marriage.
In its first three episodes this year, “Medium” averaged 8.5 million viewers, making it NBC’s sixth-most-watched scripted series of the season. The show has attracted 45% more viewers than NBC’s earlier 10 p.m. Monday programming, which included “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Momma’s Boys.”
It’s a solid performance for a drama that does not get a huge marketing boost or generate much chatter in the zeitgeist.
“I’m just grateful that we have a really dedicated, smart audience that’s really connected to the show,” Arquette said. “It’s really kind of been the little engine that could.”
Executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron (“Moonlighting”) — who created the show based on the life of a real medium named Allison DuBois — is not sure of the reasons for the series’ following. But he thinks viewers may be picking up on his “maniacal” passion for the program.
“My ego wants to think that in some way, people feel that and respond to that and go, ‘OK, this is a show that people genuinely care deeply about,’ ” he said. “I think they sense that you’re really trying to earn the 60 minutes that they give you.”
Produced by CBS Paramount, “Medium” is one of a handful of scripted shows on NBC’s schedule not made by its sister studio, a fact that Caron believes may account for its lower profile. Like other networks, NBC has increasingly come to rely on series produced in-house, an approach that helps boost revenue for its corporate parent.
“Every so often, I’ll howl a little bit and say, ‘Hey, could you throw a couple ads our way?’ ” he said. “And they’ll go, ‘Sure, sure, sure,’ because they want the show to succeed. Do they have other shows that they want to succeed more? I suspect that that’s true. They own those shows, and I understand that. But I’m grateful that no matter what’s going on over there, they seem to make a place for us.”
It remains to be seen whether that will be the case next season, when comedian Jay Leno takes over the 10 p.m. slot on NBC each weeknight.
“Obviously, the real estate is getting scarcer and scarcer,” Caron said. “But every time they do put us on the air, we perform in a very solid way. So I’m hoping that earns us a berth next year.”
Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment for NBC and Universal Media Studios, said “Medium” could easily air in a 9 p.m. slot and is definitely in contention to return next season. She dismissed the suggestion that NBC has under-promoted the show because it is owned by an outside studio.
“We love ‘Medium’; we wished we owned ‘Medium,’ ” she said. “We care about each and every time slot, so we want it to succeed. It doesn’t get a marketing push of some of the newer shows, but ‘Heroes’ is our lead-in to ‘Medium,’ so it’s important that we build up that slot.”
The premise of the program — which can claim such progeny as “Ghost Whisperer” and “The Mentalist” — continues to be arresting, Bromstad added: “It has a sort of spookiness mixed in with the day-to-day, which I think the audience finds compelling.”
Indeed, at its heart, “Medium” is not just a crime procedural but an intimate look at marriage and family dynamics, a rarity on network television. Much of the narrative centers on the relationship between Allison and her husband, Joe (Jake Weber), a matter-of-fact scientist who struggles to understand his wife’s supernatural powers. In between interpreting Allison’s dark dreams, they quarrel over mundane household responsibilities and parent three precocious daughters.
When he first pitched the show to NBC, Caron told the network that that relationship fascinated him even more than Allison’s powers. But it took some convincing before executives signed on to his approach.
“The show was born in that moment when procedurals like ‘CSI:-crime-scene-investigation’ and ‘Law & Order’ were extraordinarily successful,” he said. “They were largely about clue-to-clue, and I couldn’t have cared less about that. So there was a lot of conversation about, ‘Do we really need this family stuff?’ And I said, ‘Guys, that’s the only reason I’m here. The only thing that’s intriguing to me is there’s this woman who genuinely believes she sees this stuff and she’s married to a guy who’s a scientist, whose life is based on the physical facts of the world. I’m dying to figure out, what do they talk about at night?’ ”
Last season, Allison and Joe’s bedtime conversations escalated into arguments about the costs of his new solar energy start-up and his relationship with his new business partner (Kelly Preston). Having survived that test of their marriage, the fifth season finds the couple back on more solid ground emotionally and financially, especially now that Allison’s old boss (Miguel Sandoval) has regained his post as district attorney and brought her back on staff.
After the dramatic arcs of last season, Caron said that in Season 5 “the big challenge was figuring out how to get it back to a place where we were operating week to week. You don’t always want to have to be confronting a crisis.”
This season, smaller dramas consume Allison: the travails of her teenage daughter, Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva), and a lucrative job offer from the private sector.
Arquette, who made her directorial debut with last week’s episode, said she’s continually challenged and surprised by the character, a fact she credits to the writers’ creativity.
“It’s a very open subject matter, so I think they could go for a long time with these stories,” she said.
But just once, she said, she’d like to see Allison fail to correctly use her visions to help solve a murder.
“I feel like because people treat her with doubt so often, at some point we really need to show where she’s wrong all the way through,” Arquette said, noting that Allison’s colleagues continue to question her abilities, despite her success at solving crimes. “Otherwise those people just seem like lunatics.”